Ep19-The Attributes Of God Ch 13 - The Problems of Conventional Christology

This weeks episode explores what it means that Christ is both man and God. We talk about the different views on this and some of the problems that arise with conflicts with actual New Testament writing and logical issues. We talk about various traditional attempts to solve these problems and discuss their strengths and shortcomings.

Topics Discussed:
• The Historical Problem
• The Logical Problem
• The Christological Controversy
* Traditional Responses
• The Kenotic Theory
• The Grace Theory

Show Notes:


“The problem of Christology narrowly defined, concerns the relation of the divinity and the humanity in the Christ—the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth—a subject obviously at the very center of Christianity.”

“The traditional explanation—that Christ is one person with two natures, one divine and one human—was adopted at Chalcedon (C.E. 451) and remained the consensus Christian position until the nineteenth century when developments in biblical scholarship and logic pointed to numerous deficiencies in the traditional formulation. The traditional explanations leave a lot to be desired both in terms of logical consistency and of historical adequacy.”

The Historical Problem

“For example, when the rich young man addressed Jesus as “Good Master,” Jesus responded by rebuking him: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God” (Matt 19:16–17; Mark 10:17–18; Luke 18:18–19). This does not appear to be the response of one who proclaims himself to be very God, for Jesus’ entire point was that he should not be put in the same category as God.”

“This passage, and others like it, have led biblical scholars to see that the historical Jesus of Nazareth did not make the claims of divinity for himself...”

“The synoptic gospels, and especially the gospel of Mark, strongly suggest that even Jesus’ disciples did not understand who and what he was during his mortal ministry. For example, in Mark Jesus tells his disciples: “The Son of Man will be delivered into the power of men, they will put him to death: and three days later after he has been put to death he will rise again.” Mark observes, “But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:31–32). Luke adds: “It was hidden from them so that they should not see the meaning of it” (Luke 9:45).”

“All of the Gospels report that the Eleven did not believe the women (or Mary in the Gospel of John) when they reported that Jesus had been resurrected—a sure sign that they were not expecting it: “They did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him” (Mark 16:11). Such circumstances indicate that even Jesus’ closest disciples did not have a clear expectation that Jesus would be glorified through the resurrection.”

“It would be a mistake, however, to assert that the New Testament does not claim divine status for the Christ or that such claims must be the result of a long evolution of Christian thought. Many scholars believe that the intense Jewish commitment to monotheism makes it inconceivable that the Christ was considered to have divine status with God the Father before Christianity moved beyond its status as a sect within Judaism and became largely a gentile religion where the idea of a plurality of gods would be more acceptable.“ Nevertheless, some of the most developed Christology of the New Testament is found in its earliest writings, the genuine epistles of Paul which were written to communities with large concentrations of Jewish-Christians, such as Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians, usually dated between 52 A.D. and 64 A.D.”

“Paul’s notion of Jesus Christ’s divine status seems to have been that Christ was a divine agent of the Father, much like the angels who are given divine status in the Old Testament and in the emerging Jewish apocalyptic found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pseudepigrapha of Jesus’ era.4 In other words, the Christ was made divine by the Father. The Christ’s divine status was dependent upon his participation in the Father’s grace and glory.”

“For example, in Philippians 2:5–11, God the Father “highly exalted” Christ by “giving unto him a name which is above every other name” with the result that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

“ ...Paul had written almost exclusively of the resurrected and exalted Christ whereas the synoptics describe the mortal life of Jesus of Nazareth prior to his exaltation—albeit with the benefit of years of reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life and the sharpened hindsight of the emerging Christian church”

“It is clear that Paul never knew the mortal Jesus of Nazareth. His encounter was with the exalted and resurrected Christ. However it is also generally accepted that the writers of the Gospels never knew the mortal Jesus. They were dependent upon the traditions preserved of Jesus’ memory within the Church. Further, their writings are not histories or biographies in the modern sense, but testimonies. They tell about the life of the historical Jesus, but their main concern is to bear witness of what the life of Jesus of Nazareth means for the salvation of Christians.”

“New Testament scholarship has reached somewhat of a consensus that the understanding of who and what Jesus was varied among the writers of the gospels. For example, Mark saw Jesus as a human endowed with the spirit of God at baptism and thereafter had prophetic status.”

“A “son of God” was understood as a person especially endowed with God’s spirit. However, the term “son of God” was commonly used for humans in the time of Jesus and did not imply divine status.8 Neither were the figures of the Messiah of Jewish expectation or the “son of man” understood to be divine or to have divine status, but were thought of as a mortal person, possibly even a superhuman or divine agent chosen of God for a special calling or mission.”

“Matthew and Luke expanded upon the understanding of Mark with their birth narratives. Christ’s status as God’s Son is explained by the fact that he was begotten by God’s power and his mortal status by the fact that he had a mortal mother. Certainly the term “Son of God” took on new meaning in light of the infancy narratives. As Raymond E. Brown has convincingly argued, Matthew and Luke have adopted separate (sometimes conflicting) legends based upon the stories of the birth of Moses and adapted them toward a similar theological end: showing that Christ was God’s Son from conception.”

“John’s Gospel makes a quantum leap beyond the synoptics in terms of its Christology. Except for the passion narrative, John’s Gospel has almost no material in common with the synoptics and almost all critical scholars hold the view that John’s Gospel consistently projects the attributes and words of the resurrected Lord back onto the mortal ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.”

“ In the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified with the logos or Word of God (“and the word was God”) in a preexistent state before taking upon himself human flesh (John 1:1–14). The Word of God is the Father’s agent in the creation and the rational expression of God’s action in the world (John 1:1–4; cf., Heb. 1:1–3). However, John refers to God the Father as ho theos—the God—but to the Word only as theos—God. The absence of the definite article in front of the word “God” when referring to the Word shows unequivocally that the Word is distinct from God the Father.10 It also shows that the Word is subordinate to God the Father, although divine.”

“John’s Jesus is portrayed as stating to the Jewish authorities: “I and my Father are one.”

The Jewish authorities correctly understood what Jesus claimed and took up stones: “We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:30–33). Rather than rebuking the Jewish authorities for an obvious misunderstanding, as Jesus had the rich young man in Mark, John’s Jesus responded: “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ye are gods?’ If he called them gods . . . say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If I do not the works of the Father, believe me not. But if I do . . . believe that the Father is in me, and I in the Father”

“there are two ways to read John. One way is suggested by Ernst Kasemann who argued that John portrays Jesus simply as God walking on earth in the flesh even while God did not cease to be a heavenly being.13 However, Rudolph Bultmann’s interpretation seems to me to be more convincing.14 He argued that the emphasis of the gospel of John is that Christ is sent by the Father and does the Father’s works, not his own. His authority is wholly dependent on the Father: “He who believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me. . . . I have not spoken of my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak” (John 12:44–50). In other words, Christ is endowed with divine status, but it is a status subordinate to and dependent upon that of the Father”

“Later New Testament writings developed still other Christologies. For example, Hebrews is written to show that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and thus is the Father’s heir to all things and even the one through whom the Father created the worlds (Hebrews 1:2); Christ is the reflection of God’s glory and bears the impress of God’s own being, and sustains all things by his command (Heb. 1:3). Christ is greater than the angels and Moses (Heb. 1:1–13). ”

“Nevertheless, Christ shared fully in human nature: “It is essential that he should in this way be made completely like his [human] brothers so that he could become a compassionate and trustworthy high priest for their relationship to God, able to expiate the sins of the people. For the suffering he himself passed through while being put to the test enables him to help others when they are being put to the test” (Heb. 2:17–18). That is, though Christ was already perfect in a moral sense as a divine preexistent being, mortality nevertheless added a new dimension to Christ’s perfection: a perfection of testedness and experiential knowledge.”

“Hebrews stresses that, though divine, Christ shared fully in human experience; and though truly tempted as all humans are, Jesus did not succumb to temptation in any way as all humans do (7:26).”

“When the New Testament is carefully analyzed, it reveals numerous different Christologies, different understandings of who and what Jesus was and meant. I think that it is fair to conclude that the early Christian writers of scripture were attempting to understand and express who and what Jesus was within the categories of thought and language known to them in the first century C.E. Some saw him as a prophet chosen to initiate the kingdom of God, others as a divine agent having angellike status and still others as the incarnation of God’s Word. The fact that there are different understandings strongly suggests that there is no single Christology which is normative for Christians.”

“The following constraints on Christology seem to be imposed by the New Testament understandings of Jesus and modern biblical scholarship: (a) the historical Jesus had a human range of consciousness and understanding which was conditioned by the time and culture in which he lived—first century Judaism; (b) the earliest Christians experienced salvation linked to Christ’s resurrection and continuing spiritual presence in the Christian community which led to the understanding that Jesus shared in the divine status; (c) the earliest Christians understood that Jesus had been exalted by the Father and granted divine status through gracious participation in the Father’s glory; (d) an early Christology developed, found in Paul and developed further in the Gospel of John, that explained Christ’s divine status in part in terms of Christ’s preexistence in glory with the Father which glory the Son temporarily laid aside by becoming human; “and (e) the Son’s divine status was subordinate to and dependent upon the divinity of the Father in a way that was understood to be consistent with Jewish monotheism.”

The Logical Problem

“The logical problem of Christology is easily stated: The properties any thing must possess to be “God” appear to be incompatible with the properties possessed by humans.”

Discuss Essential and Non-essential properties

“If properties 1 through 7 are essential properties of the person who is God or otherwise essential to the divine nature; and if properties 1’ through 7’ are essential to being human or are included in human nature, then nothing can simultaneously be both God and man—at least not if the law of noncontradiction is to be maintained. Consider the following:
(A) God is essentially omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and uncreated;
(B) Jesus Christ was and is fully God;
(C) Jesus Christ was and is fully human;
(D) Necessarily, no human is omnipotent or omniscient or omnipresent or uncreated.”

The Christological Controversy

Greek thought began infiltrating Christianity very early on

“ A certain group, later known as Docetists (from the Greek dokeo which means “to seem or appear”), asserted that Christ only appeared to suffer, only seemed to possess a body.”

Many groups formed that failed to recognize Christ's humanity

“Apollonius adopted the Platonic theory that a human person consists of spirit (nous), soul (psyche) and a material body (sarx). He suggested that the divine logos constituted Jesus’ spirit while his body and soul were human, so that Jesus was really God walking around in a human body. Yet this position was unacceptable to early Christians for the simple but sufficient reason that Jesus “does not really share in human experience if he remains omniscient and omnipotent.”

“Nestorianism also arose shortly after Nicea and attempted to explain the divine and human natures in Christ as two separate wills related to one another in intimate dyadic unity.”

“Nestorius’ “solution” had the great advantage that it preserved Christ’s human nature but was rejected because it bought the full humanity of Christ only at the cost of denying a unity of the person—Christ was two separate entities so to speak, one identified with the divine nature and another identified with the human nature.

Traditional Responses

“The orthodox “resolution” of the Christological controversy culminated at the council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, which declared that Christ was one person with two separate natures, a divine nature and a human nature:

[Jesus Christ is] at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a rational soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin . . . one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of nature being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence”

“The two-natures theory of Christology adopted at Chalcedon consists of the following joint claims: (1) “Christ” is identified with a single person; (2) This single person possessed both a fully human and fully divine natures; and (3) These two natures were and are simultaneously present in the one person.”

Explain what "nature" meant in medieval times

3 natures? God the son, Christ the man, the combination of the two

“There are thus at least two questions posed by the two natures creed: (1) how can anything have both a property and its complement without violating the law of noncontradiction? and (2) how can a single person have two natures?”

Talk about the Centaur metaphor

“What the proponent of Chalcedon asserts is that the divine nature and the human nature of the single person Christ are different aspects of the same thing so that reduplicative propositions can properly be used to fend off the claim of contradiction which appears to arise from belonging to two natural kinds having complementary properties.”

What are the problems with “the reduplicative proposition strategy”?

such as:

“There seem to be properties which are possessed by the person Christ such that they are incompatible. Consider the following Christological affirmations of traditional theology:
(P1) Christ as God is uncreated, but Christ as man is acreated being; or—
(P2) Christ as God never came into existence but has always existed, but Christ as man came into existence and has not always existed.”

“Thomas Morris has suggested two distinctions which he thinks may allow us to maintain Chalcedon’s two-nature Christology. A review of Morris’s arguments may be instructive because his defense of the traditional two-nature Christology is the most informed and sophisticated in recent scholarship in my opinion.

• He first points out that there is a difference between an essential property and a common property.”

“Morris points to a diamond and suggests that it has all of the properties essential to being a physical object and it is thus fully physical. Next consider an alligator. An alligator has spatio-temporal location and mass and thus has all of the properties essential to being a physical object and is thus a fully physical object like the diamond; but it is not merely physical, it is also animate and living. Thus, a diamond is both fully and merely a physical object, whereas the alligator is fully but not merely physical because it also possesses properties of a higher order of being. Morris argues that, analogously, Christ does not have all of the properties essential to being merely human which are incompatible with possessing divine properties such as having ontologically contingent existence and possibly ceasing to exist, but instead possesses only those properties of being fully human which may be consistent with divine properties.”

“The critical point is not whether Christ had a beginning in time, as the Church Fathers thought, but whether Christ ontologically depends on God the Father for his existence. Unless the words of the creed “eternally begotten” are emptied of all cognitive content, both Christ’s human nature and Christ’s divine nature identified with God the Son are on the wrong side of the ontological divide. They are both ontologically contingent creatures dependent on the Father for existence. The Nicean creed didn’t rid Christianity of Arianism after all. But Christ cannot be God in the fullest sense if he is a created or ontologically contingent being.”

Divine mind vs human mind

“Morris’s two-minds Christology predicates contradictory properties of one and same thing and thus violates the law of noncontradiction. As indicated, it seems that any two-nature Christology must posit two minds of Christ, one possessed by the historical Jesus of Nazareth and another, nowhere attested to in scripture, possessed by God the Son. It seems to me that the two-nature creed ends up positing two separate entities despite its insistence that there must be one person. The two-nature creed thus ends up committing the Nestorian heresy and should be rejected.”

The Kenotic Theory

“These thinkers also understood Christology differently—Jesus was not simultaneously on earth as a human and in heaven as God; rather, Jesus was divine in the preexistence but gave up his divine properties inconsistent with humanity, except the moral attributes, and took upon himself flesh and became a man. This view of Christology conformed well to the historical investigation of the Gospels showing that Jesus had a human range of consciousness and was subject to human error and limitations.”

“He experienced mortality in all of its limitations, just as all humans have done. Jesus thus “started from scratch” so to speak—except that he already had a developed moral character which manifested itself as Jesus made moral choices in concrete situations.”

“For example, in John 17:4–5 Jesus prays: “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do and now, Father, glorify thou me in thine own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” As Stephen T. Davis pointed out, at least three claims seem implicit in this scripture. First, Jesus Christ once had a divine glory and “oneness with the Father before the world existed; second, at the time of the prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus did not possess a fullness of divine glory; and third, Jesus anticipated regaining the unity and glory which he once had with the Father.


Who was God while God was in Jesus? Must adopt that father and son are separate.

How can God give up essential divine properties and still be God?

standard kenoticism:  to assert that, in the incarnation, Christ gave up those divine properties which are inconsistent with being truly human while retaining those properties sufficient to remain truly divine—that is, Jesus of Nazareth was in fact divine and human at the same time.48 In this view, “God” is used as a proper name so that the person who is God essentially possesses divine properties in the sense required of the doctrine of essential predication.”

“For example, omniscience must be understood not as “knowing all truths” but as something like “knowing-all-truths-unless-voluntarily-willing-not-to-know-some-truths.”

“It won’t work to alter omnipotence in a way analogous to omniscience as “able-to-do-any-logically-possible-act-unless-willing- not-to-do-so.” If Jesus is able at any time to voluntarily regain his omnipotence, then he remains omnipotent throughout because he is able to do anything logically possible simply by willing to become omnipotent again.”

Radical Kenotic Jesus fully human during his life.

Christ's preexistence issue. Is he contingent or not?

The Grace Theory

“The grace theory asserts basically that Christ is transformed into a being sharing the divine properties by being infused with the Father’s grace. Hick states: “We see in the life of Jesus a supreme instance of that fusion of divine grace inspiration with creaturely freedom that occurs in all authentic human response and obedience to God.”

“To the extent that Jesus perfectly reflected the will of the Father in his actions, he partook of the divine nature through the paradox of grace. His acts just were God’s acts because his will was God’s will and the power by which he did the acts was that of the Father.”

“He was simply an extraordinary human in this view. Nevertheless, the Christ participates in divinity because he fully embodies the Father’s indwelling spirit.”

“It has been widely assumed throughout the history of Christian thought that a being having only a human nature cannot be the source of salvation for humans. One might think, rather, that the Father is the source of salvation as Jesus taught—but for Christians, the Christ is also a source of salvation. However, it seems to me that the grace theory of Christology can accommodate this criticism by recognizing that the Father wrought salvation through Christ analogous to the way he created through Christ as the creative agent in Hebrews.”

“If there is not a radical ontological discontinuity between divinity and humanity—and there is no way to make sense of the claim that Christ was God if there is—then there is no reason to think that divinity cannot be fully shared with humans through grace. Similarly there is no reason to believe that divinity may not be fully mature humanity realized through the grace of God.”


  1. How can there be no comments yet!!!
    I am a little behind and I do not know how or when I will be fully caught up, but I am enjoying the discussion. I have finished #9 and am going through #10.
    I have read Blake's 4 books and many of his other writings.
    I have typically agreed with Blake's perspective and on at least one occasion (the timelessness of God) been dragged from my previous "eternal now" perspective.
    I suspect I would love to ask questions, but am not sure if that would be encouraged.
    I will offer two:
    1. I remember reading a discussion that involved Blake and William Lane Craig. In perhaps my only disagreement with Blake, I found it a little simpler to believe that God "eternally will" to enter into time (in LDS thought with all other Eternal Intelligence invited to come whenever they come) and after such God was in time. This seemed to bypass the problem of God existing for an eternity before He got around to creating. Some version of an infinity argument claiming there would be no ability to actually get to the creating part if time ticked forever before it. Do you remember the online discussion (I cannot find it at the moment)? Do you have more to add?
    2. Corey and Jacob suggested that they have read the 4th book. I have assumed this means the 4th in the exploring Mormon thought series (not Fire on the Horizon). When do mere mortals get to read the 4th book?
    Anyway, I am enjoying your series. I hope you continue!!
    Charity, TOm

    1. Tom sorry for not responding sooner. I just saw your questions. I suppose the best response is as follows: (1) it is logically impossible for a timeless being to enter into time because that entails a state of affairs at TN (eternal now) and a temporal process beginning at T1 which also entails succession in states of being logically and temporally. "Entering into time" is a temporal process.

      There is no problem with what God was doing before creation in LDS thought because there is no "before creation" at all.

      I guess I ought to get my 4th vol. in the Exploring Mormon Thought series to the press. It has been done for more than 4 years.

    2. Thank you for the response.
      I will add my hope (humble though it is) that you do get your 4th book to press.
      I have looked through your response to Kalam Infinity argument and have not decided that I have got it completely nailed down, but I also do not see things with which to disagree.
      You responded very quickly actually, I am just behind on my listening!
      I think I have some episode 12 or 13 questions, but I need to listen. They are about the creative weighing of different priorities resulting in free will.
      I will probably ask them in response to 12 or 13 wherever they seem better suited.
      Thanks again for your response.


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